Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dabber Ivrit ve-Hivreta

This week's Makor Rishon had an article about an organization called ESRA, which helps Olim from English speaking countries to acclimatize in Israel (aka קליטה). The article highlighted an aspect of contemporary Aliyah from English-speaking countries, namely the tendency of Anglos to live in hermetically sealed English-speaking ghettoes, and to socialize solely with other Anglos. The result is that an ever growing Oleh population never becomes part of Israeli society.

Personally, I find the phenomenon both curious and painful. When we moved here in 1993, we worked very hard to become part of Israel. True, we spoke English at home and in no way severed our awareness of an involvement in American culture. Still, we have always had both Israeli and non-Israeli friends. We learned about Israeli culture and politics. My wife studied in Israeli schools and training programs. She volunteered for years in various connections and always worked in Hebrew speaking environments. As a university lecturer, I was immersed in the broader society from Day One (or actually, day 265 because I landed into the biggest academic strike in two decades). More than that, because I was too old to be drafted I spent ten years as a volunteer on the Jerusalem Police Force (מתמי"ד) both to make up for my not serving in the army and to taste something of the melting pot experience that army service provides. The children, despite being raised in an American environment, are integral, caring parts of the fabric of Israeli society. I take tremendous pride in that fact.

Indeed, I cannot imagine doing otherwise. My life is so much richer for being part of this tapestry. I have here a sense of Klal Yisrael, of belonging to the multi-variegated body politic of the Jewish People that cannot be fully expressed in words. The fact that we all speak the same language, understand the same codes, reference the same cultural and religious moments (even among many Secular Jews) is, for me, a profoundly spiritual experience. If you don't crack the language and the semiotic, you deny yourself of that moment of total lack of self-consciousness when something dramatic (good or bad) happens and your Israeli brother or sister says one word (or you do) and you implicitly, intuitively understand and share the experience. The Anglo Olim who, in their fear and/or their arrogance, keep to themselves, deny themselves of all of that.

They also harm the State of Israel. For Anglo-Saxon Jewry is one that grew up under real democratic rule. It is the Jewry that developed Modern Orthodoxy. It is commercially and academically successful and sagacious. In other words, it has its own riches to contribute to the miracle of Israel by adapting its heritage to the unique dynamic of this beautiful Jewish mosaic. It's not fair to keep all of that from the rest. Who knows, perhaps that's why they were privileged to come at this time.

One thing is certain, as with anything of lasting worth in Jewish tradition...If it's not in Hebrew, it will have no future.


Jonathan B. Horen said...

"One thing is certain... If it's not in Hebrew, it will have no future."

Tell that to the legions of American חוזרים בתשובה who, 20 years later, remain dependent on their Artscroll translations.

When I began learning at Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, over 30 years ago, Rav Noach Weinberg זצ"ל used to say: "Don't learn about it, learn it!"; and, in keeping with this, had us studying the Mishne Torah of Rambam. Rav Noach chose the "Rambam l'Am" version, from Mosad HaRav Kook, but after six months we had abandoned the vowelized text... having Hebrew, we were like airline passengers, with "permission to move freely about the cabin area".

Artscroll (and other) translations retard learning and, in the worst case, are "gateway drugs" to lighter-weight versions of Judaism.

Anonymous said...

mostly agree.
but it has been my experience that a-s olim come either from the top or bottom of socioeconomic north america, and are not necessarily richer, more educated, or even m.o. you generalize.
i can be mochel the parents their fear and need to be comfortable [even as i think you did it the best way...], as long as they integrate their kids.
and it is another israeli canard that only things in hebrew last, and all others fall by the wayside. this is simplistic. example: artscroll gemaras, written in english, set the stage for the ubiquitous hebrew 'schottenshtein.' whether this phenomenon is good for the jews or bad for the jews is a question we can debate a different time, but it seems the phenomenon will be with us for some time, and has changed the face of learning.

Anonymous said...

...another example from the middle ages: the moreh nevuchim. had it never been translated it would never have lasted, true. but it began in arabic.

DB said...

I am an Oleh Chadash and extremely happy in my almost completely american neighborhood!! I happen to know very very good Hebrew, spoken and written, but Israeli society scares me and I usually do not like to take part in it. I am very comfortable with my American style needs and culture and am blessed to be able to sustain it here. I don't think there is any benefit to mixing in with Israelis more than needed. If you ask me why I am here then, I will answer because this is my homeland and I feel completely different here. I don't see what that has to do with mixing in with Israeli society and culture.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Good post and good point. Things aren't all that gloomy, however. The children of these olim will go to Israeli schools, serve in Tzahal, and so the next generation will join Israeli society more completely than their parents. In the meantime, I'm sure you agree that (in the words of Rav Meir David Kahane), "better an American ghetto in Israel than a Jewish ghetto in America.'